"When does colonialism stop and a conquering people becomes indigenous to the land?"
(Editor’s note: After Dirty Water, episode thirty, in which the demographic makeup of Israel was discussed, and which a few tropes concerning the colonial and apartheid nature of the brave little nation were also included, a BeachGrit reader from the Israeli city of Haifa wrote a long missive detailing our myriad mistakes. The tone of the email was very kind, although I’ve deleted the compliments to focus on the criticism.)
While referencing Trump’s Middle Eastern policy Chas talked about Israel being basically formed by white colonizers in a brown land and saying that you might as well be pro-apartheid if you’re pro-Israel.
You rebutted, Derek, saying not all Jews are “White” and that there are Sephardi Jews which are Brown, to which Chas replied that the majority of Israel is descendant of European Jews.
Longtom added that he was under the impression that Jews were on the Right’s side and didn’t really understand the chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville.
Now, I know I’m dangerously close to you closing this email while saying fuck this preaching, but I felt like I had to point out a few facts and unpack what was said even though this was an afterthought said in the end of a surf podcast.
First, Israel’s ethnic makeup is quite diverse, as you must know from visiting. The largest ethnic group is Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews (Jews descended from North Africa and Asia).
With 44.9% of the Jewish population and 48% to include Ethiopian Jews, “Brown and Black” Jews are the biggest group in Israel-Jewish society.
Ashkenazi Jews come second with 31.8% and Jews from the former USSR (who include Mizrahi Jews from Turkic countries) with 12.4%.
There are also 7.9% mixed race Jews, a demographic which I’m proud to be part of. My dad’s family came at the end of the 19th century from Russia while my mom’s hail from Morocco originally but came here through the Sahara on camels around the end of the 18th century. I’m a ninth-generation Israeli that stands out in family photos for being white in a Moroccan family.
You can also tell Chas my girlfriend is from Yemenite Jewish descent, thought he might like that.
(The study I’m referencing was done by Tel Aviv University, link here.)
Beyond that, Jews whether they are from Poland or Morocco subscribe to a unique and somewhat uniform historical, cultural and even genetic heritage.
Most genetic studies done in recent years point to the Levant as the origin of Jews from different countries (even though this is more significant in Mizrahi Jews due to some intermarriage of Ashkenazi Jews with the general population in Europe).
Historically, some of the land which now occupies Israel was in fact the place of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The archaeological evidence is abundant and though not supporting many Biblical claims still attest to the link between Jews and this land from around 1200BCE
(Read about the Merneptah Stele for the earliest reference to a people named Israel.)
The land’s name was changed from Judea (the land of Jews) to Syria Palaestina by emperor Hadrian just to sever the tie of the people to the land after the Great Revolt, the destruction of the second temple and the exile of the Jews (not the first and not the last one in history).
Lastly, cultural ties remained strong between different Jewish communities in religious matters but not only throughout the diaspora.
The Jew was always considered the outsider no matter if it was in Russia, France or Ethiopia (the derogatory word used for the Ethiopian Jewish community was Falasha outsider in Amharic).
Saying that Jews are simply White colonizers in a Brown land is not only the reduction of 3000 years of Jewish history, it’s a great misrepresentation of the history of the land.
Jews are an indigenous people coming back to their ancestral homeland, some are Brown, Black and White but all came in the hope to resurrect their homeland.
All were persecuted specifically because they were the other, not belonging even when they looked the same as their neighbors.
I do accept that there is another narrative which I don’t subscribe to and although I think is flawed in its rationality has some ground.
There are a lot of reasons for Israel’s formation, namely the persecution of Jews everywhere culminating in the Holocaust, but there was also the deep yearning for Zion taught all across the Jewish diaspora for 2000 years.
The logic behind the concept of the indigenous right of return for Jews to their ancestral homeland could be also used in the Palestinian context to reconcile the return of fourth-generation Palestinian descendants of those who left (driven out by some) in the midst of the Independence War of 1948 to the modern-day Israel.
When does a claim to being from a land end?
I could argue that the Palestinians identify as Arabs, and therefore are part of a colonial power. Coming in the seventh century from Arabia to concur the Middle East, parts of Africa and Europe and to spread Islam mostly by the sword.
When does colonialism stop and a conquering people becomes indigenous to the land?
I don’t know definite answers to these questions and I hope this doesn’t feel like random historical facts spewed in digital form.
I’m not a bystander. I am part of a tribe and I do identify myself as an Israeli a Jew and a Zionist.
I believe in this country and what it represents even though I don’t always agree with my government.
What I wrote here is painted with that brush, but I’m also arguing for a different perception of the conflict by outside observers. This was, and basically still is, an ethnic conflict between two very much indigenous peoples (one with stronger roots than the other I might add) and it should be viewed as such.
Western and, specifically, American concepts of white colonialism don’t apply here.
People that like to conflate movements like BLM and the Palestinian cause, forgetting this is not a racial issue (we are both Semitic people) and the aweul history of slavery and systemic racism doesn’t have anything to do with the Jewish state and its struggle to exist in a sea of nations out for it’s destruction.
There are bigots here and we do have problems of discrimination towards Arab-Israelis (and racism even inside the Jewish community towards Ethiopian and Mizrahi Jews).
Trying to force western concepts on this situation is historically inaccurate and not very constructive.